Kiwi sought in death boat tragedy

By Kathryn Powley

A man implicated in 353 refugee drownings now lives in NZ – but police want to bring him to justice

Abu Muslim
Abu Muslim

The survivor of an unprecedented boat-people tragedy is furious one of the alleged people smugglers is being put up in a State house in Auckland, beyond the reach of Australian authorities who want to prosecute him.

Surviving refugee Abu Muslim will never forget the horror of watching hundreds of people drown, as he struggled to stay afloat for 22 hours before being rescued. "It was unreal, like being in a movie," he told the Herald on Sunday.

But now, he has been given hope that the man he alleges sold him an $800 ticket for the overcrowded boat might finally be forced to answer to a judge and jury. New Zealand Police have gone to the Court of Appeal in a bid to have Auckland's Maythem Kamil Radhi extradited to Australia to face people-smuggling charges. The Aucklander is wanted by Australian authorities for his role in the deaths of asylum seekers who drowned when their boat sank off Indonesia.

The 19.5m x 4m SIEV X (Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel X) sank in October 2001 killing 146 children, 142 women and 65 men. Only 68 survived.

Radhi, a refugee himself, now lives with his wife and children in a State house, works in car repairs, and his children attend a local school.

Justice Wylie found Radhi didn't meet the threshold for extradition, mainly because when the SIEV X sank, people smuggling carried only a three-month jail sentences under New Zealand law. To be extradited the charges must carry at least a one-year sentence. New Zealand people-smuggling laws were strengthened in 2002 to be punishable by 20 years imprisonment, or a $500,000 fine.

Christine Gordon QC told the Herald on Sunday she has applied for leave to appeal the High Court judgment that allowed Radhi to stay in New Zealand.

Radhi's lawyer, Roger Chambers, said he would oppose the latest application at a hearing in July.

"Extradition proceedings are not an examination of the factual background of why the Australians want him," he said. "His involvement was very peripheral. He was certainly not the main person. He was way down the list. What he did as much as anything else, I suspect, was more of a humanitarian nature. He came lawfully to New Zealand."

Two key figures in the SIEV X disaster have already been punished. One was sentenced to nine years in Australia and the other received a five-year sentence in Egypt.

Radhi, who gained UN refugee status before the disaster, arrived in New Zealand in 2009. He is eligible to vote, and next year he'll have lived here for five years and will be eligible to apply for citizenship.

Muslim, 50, also lives in New Zealand, is married and has two daughters aged 3 and 4 - but he will never forget the horror of watching hundreds of people drown.

He and 100 other asylum seekers had spent about six months living in an Indonesian hotel. "We were like a family and we all came to this ship. In all, only 10 people survived [of that 100]. It was very tragic."

"I lost a lot of people," Muslim said. "I don't know why this government does not do something with him. I don't know why."

- Herald on Sunday

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